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Maya Rudolph Talks Producing Pivot, “Being Part of the Greater Good” For Create & Cultivate Keynote

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 1/29/2021 Kirsten Chuba

On Thursday night, female-led media platform Create & Cultivate celebrated its fifth annual CC100 List gala, going virtual for the first time amid the pandemic.

The free digital event, put on in partnership with Chevrolet, honored 100 women selected for “making moves and redefining the future of the workplace and the world” across 10 categories including entertainment, beauty, fashion, small business, entrepreneur, food, health and wellness, “Find New Roads,” content creator and music. Among those recognized were Marsai Martin, Debra Messing, Alyson Stoner, Stephanie Shepherd, Aluna, Epic Records CEO Sylvia Rhone, Jessica Alba, Emily Ratajkowski and Venus Williams, along with six women on the front line at UCLA Medical Center were honored in the “Find New Roads” category as a testament to healthcare workers. Maya Rudolph and Keke Palmer also sat down for keynote conversations, and the event featured a virtual red carpet and an interactive human design workshop.

Palmer spoke on the importance of “self-love and putting yourself first, trying to make yourself happy, and not putting others’ happiness before your own,” and honoree Taraji P. Henson talked about her commitment to “stay vocal about things that matter, and about staying on the right side of history. Staying vocal about being fair. Period.”

Ahead of the event, Rudolph —who beyond ruling 2020 as Kamala Harris on Saturday Night Live, has also continued to churn out new projects behind the camera through her first-look deal with Amazon — chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about expanding into producing with her and Natasha Lyonne’s Animal Pictures banner, supporting the next generation of comedians and embracing Zoom galas.

Why did you say yes to being a part of this event and honoring women in business in this way?

I’ve never been asked to do something like this before in this way. This is the first time since we started Animal Pictures that I felt like I had an exciting project to talk about in terms of the way that I’m working. I never really set out to produce anything, the opportunity arose out of the friendship and collaboration with my longtime friend, Natasha Lyonne, and it felt really natural. Lately, it’s just felt like I’m looking at work in terms of life expansion, like when I was sort of itching to shed a new skin and try something else or expand creatively, this came into my life. What’s been nice about it has been the ability to continue to be creative without just being in front of the camera, that there’s so much more to that. And in turn, working with another woman who I feel such a kinship with and has such an unbelievable work ethic, it has just infused mine.

What’s the value of having a female-led company and how has that helped in getting projects off the ground? 

I love it. I find that the female partnerships that I have in business have been really meaningful for me and that I value them for the ability to connect in a certain way, to have similar work ethic. What has been special for me about our production company is working with someone who I’m so close to and know so well and care so much about. And it’s part of the fiber of the way in which we work — we’re very much partners in life who look after each other and the greater good is always the most important. I think we both feel comfortable about who we are, in terms of the work that we do, so we’ve been able to shift focus on newer talent and different voices. Within that security in having a long career, you’re able to feel like you want to share that experience with other people and celebrate younger voices, newer voices, voices that you feel you can help uplift or support. We both share that value and I think it’s such a pure and key value for our company.

Becoming a producer, how has that impacted the way you’re able to help more women in the business and the way you look at the industry? 

It’s definitely been helpful to say, “Hey, I endorse this project” because it’s taken me a long time too, I think, to establish myself and my career and my voice. It helps and it matters. That’s, unfortunately, sometimes the only way that people will listen to you, is if you say, “Hey, you need to listen to this person, they’re great” because now I’m in the position where they can trust me. I know that that’s something that helps people and if I can do that for people in the way that it’s been done for me, then absolutely. I’m not thinking of it in terms of like, “Hey, you guys did this for me, now I’ll do it for you,” but it just feels like the right thing to do it. It feels good and for me, it feels like I’m able to do something with my experience. There’s so many unique voices that have not been heard, so many stories that we haven’t seen and I like being able to be a part of that conversation and say, “This is important, this is great, this is exciting,” and be able to help bring that forward. I feel like the word “expansion” has been on my mind a lot lately and it’s sort of like finding a different lens to use to continue to be creative and this is definitely one of them.

On the theme of create and cultivate, how important has mentorship been for you in creating opportunities early in your career? And how are you passing the baton back now? 

I’ve never sought out to pass any sort of baton but I do feel like it’s the natural inclination. I love being a part of a team or a team player because my roots are in sketch comedy and that’s always been being part of the greater good. And I feel like, in order to succeed, it’s always helpful if the whole team is wonderful. And so I know that being more well-known in a situation helps things propel forward a lot faster than they did before and I certainly appreciated that. I’ve seen it my whole life and being in a position where you can actually do that for someone else feels like the correct thing to do. It’s a funny business based on human nature, where if a person says “Hey, this person is good,” then you say, “Oh, OK, I’ll check them out.” And I know that that’s happened for me in my early days on Saturday Night Live, and I needed that boost and that vote of confidence from people that knew me.

Now that all of these events have gone virtual, do you write a different keynote for a packed ballroom than for a Zoom?

It all feels the same, honestly. I feel like it’s events like this that, back in the old normal days, I felt a lot more stress on what the hell was I going to wear and having my picture taken. So that being eliminated is really nice, I’m really enjoying that aspect. It’s been lovely to be able to just focus on the things that need to be communicated and the focus of why we’re all there.

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